African political culture

Robert Mattes, Robert Nyenhuis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


Political culture can be usefully summarized as a people's values, knowledge, and evaluations of their political community, political regime, and political institutions, as well as how they see themselves and others as citizens.
While the current map of Africa was originally drawn by European colonial powers, its states and state boundaries are no longer artificial abstractions. Ordinary Africans have developed a strong identification with their national identities, even as many maintain strong attachments to sub-national linguistic, regional or religious identifies. Africans also say they want those states to be governed democratically, though the depth of their commitment to all aspects of democratic governance are not always consistent.
Other aspects of political culture are marked by important contradictions. Even though people can be highly critical of incumbent leaders, they tend to exhibit high, and often uncritical levels of trust in government and state institutions. At the same, they express very low levels of trust in other citizens, or at least those who do not share common ethnic or local identities. Yet they have high levels of membership in community organizations and are often involved in local politics. And while they express high level of interest in politics, most Africans exhibit low levels of political efficacy.
But Africa is not a country, and these attitudes often exhibit large differences across the continent. Indeed, in many places, it is far from certain whether citizen support is sufficient to sustain the multiparty systems and democratic rule that emerged in the 1990s.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Research Encyclopedias
Subtitle of host publicationPolitics
EditorsWilliam R. Thompson
Place of PublicationOxford
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • African politics
  • political culture theory
  • Africa


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